The Kane County state's attorney's office has disbanded its Victims' Rights Unit after losing a grant that had help fund the program for more than 20 years.
State's attorney Joe McMahon said his office learned in late December the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority had denied a $104,368 grant application for 2018 under the federal Victims of Crime Act.
Kane County kicks in $59,982 for a total of $164,350 a year to pay for three, full-time victims advocates. Two advocates have been reassigned to administrative duty and third position, which is vacant, has been left open.
McMahon called the decision "outrageous," "reckless" and "irresponsible," especially when the state's General Assembly places more requirements on prosecutors, such as the Victims' Bill of Rights, but doesn't provide the necessary funding.
"This has been a successful program for more than 20 years," McMahon said, adding his office has never received a complaint from the ICJIA. "This came with no notice to us. It's unfortunate the people who will suffer are victims of violent crimes."
McMahon said he has appealed the decision and reached out to elected county leaders and even Gov. Rauner's office for help.
But securing funding to allow the unit to continue could be a challenge; the county board recently axed the court's GPS monitoring service for defendants accused of violent crimes but free on bond while awaiting trial.
The role of advocates in the Victims' Rights Unit goes beyond providing a steady presence and support at court hearings and trials.
Advocates provide information throughout the process on upcoming court dates, connections to agencies and groups specific to victim needs, such as domestic violence shelters, sexual assault crisis centers, and when a person is to be released from prison.
Advocates also help victims complete paperwork for restitution through the Attorney General's Office's Crime Victims Compensation Application and work to honor the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights. One section is the right to have an advocate present at all court proceedings.
"The protection of crime victims' rights is critically important," McMahon said. "It's not simply fill out a form and check a box. It takes time and emotional commitment to gain trust."
Other nearby counties do not appear to have the same problem.
The McHenry County state's attorney's office has two full-time victims rights advocates whose salaries are paid, in part, through a $32,800 yearly grant from the state attorney general's office's under the Violent Crime Victims Assistance Act, said Robert Zalud, first assistant state's attorney in McHenry County.
Zalud said his office was awarded the grant for the current fiscal year, which ends in June 2018.
Paul Darrah, spokesman for the DuPage County state's attorney's office, said the county employs five full-time advocates in the office's Restitution Victim Services Division and they are all salaried and paid with county funds.
Officials from Lake and Cook counties could not immediately be reached.
Cristin Evans, spokeswoman for the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, said she could not comment on the denial of Kane's application because it is being appealed. She said the agency will respond within 60 days of Kane County's appeal or give a reason if more time were needed.